At a time when many of us are working flat out to help young women avoid controlling, manipulative, emotionally and physically violent relationships, comes a film which presents these behaviours as romantic.
Fifty Shades of Grey, based on E.L James blockbuster book, hits the cinemas today for Valentine’s Day.
Sex shops report a roaring trade, hardware stores are stocking up on cable ties and rope, and everyone’s getting in on the act. Anti-violence men’s group White Ribbon was to be the beneficiary of a Fifty Shades screening until we pressured them enough to scrap it (unfortunately we haven’t yet had the same success getting Dr Ahmed Tanveer removed as an Ambassador for his Australian piece this week contradicting and undermining the White Ribbon cause, but watch this space). A Uniting Care pre-school was to benefit also from a fundraising screenings but Uniting Care was persuaded that that wasn’t such a good idea either and that idea was pulled.
But the juggernaut rolls on. The film is being advertised on bus shelters outside high schools and even in respite care centres for children.
Why say “I love you” with chocolate when you can say it with blood and bruises?
Christian Grey, 28, in reality a sexual sociopath worthy of a restraining order, is depicted as handsome, alluring and exceedingly wealthy. Playboy Grey targets and grooms Anastasia (Ana) Steele, a virginal, klutzy, 21-year-old college student.
His obsessive and controlling behavior towards the naïve Ana is read as a sign of love and devotion. He loves her like no other.
In the advertising overdrive, the dangerous messages propagated by the Fifty Shades phenomenon should not be missed: stalking, aggression, sexual violence, threats, intimidation, manipulation and control are sexy.
If he stalks you he must really love you. If you say ‘no’, that’s just a come-on. And if you love a sadistic abuser he’ll change and you’ll live happily ever after in a really big house.
None of these behaviours are marketed as problematic but promoted as romantic. That’s why domestic violence groups internationally have launched a campaign called ’50 dollars not 50 shades’ calling for a boycott of the film and asking for donations to women’s shelters instead. They have seen too many real-life Anastasias.
One refuge worker has described Fifty Shades as a ‘classic narrative of domestic violence’.
But rather than walk away from the Christian Greys of the world, the genre tells women that if you love him and cop enough of his shit, eventually he’ll magically morph into the man you wanted.
Melbourne mental health profession Geoff Ahern agrees. “It’s fiction that glorifies fear, intimidation, stalking and violence against women. When I read extracts from the book I hear my clients telling the same stories and that is most certainly not fiction”.
Natalie Collins set up the campaign group, Fifty Shades Is Domestic Abuse. The Independent reports:
When Collins’ co-campaigner first read the books, she said she was “deeply disturbed by how it mirrored the abuse that she had experienced from an ex-partner…women are coming to us and saying, ‘We feel exploited, we feel that our stories and the abuse and trauma that we have suffered are being capitalised upon.’ We’re concerned especially how that’s reflecting and impacting young people.”
Men learn to be turned on by women in pain.
Grey calls Ana his ‘submissive’ and expects her to sign a contract outlining the ways he intends to control her.
“I’m going to fuck you now, Miss Steele… Hard.” And then he “rips through” her virginity, making her cry out. He then tells her he wants her to be “sore.”
Young women are growing up in a culture which grooms and socialises them to be subordinate. Fifty Shades reinforces that – with the expectation they should also find aggression sexy and desirable.
An analysis by Michigan State and Ohio State universities determined that Grey is a perpetrator who uses an ‘interlocking pattern’ of emotional abuse strategies to manipulate Ana and control the relationship, including, stalking, intimidation, isolation and humiliation. Physical and sexual violence are prevalent and Christian uses alcohol to impair Anastasia’s consent.
“Sexual violence is pervasive,” said the authors, citing Christian using alcohol to compromise Ana’s consent, intimidation, initiating sexual encounters when angry, dismissing Ana’s requests for boundaries, threatening her and humiliating her.
The authors noted Ana experiences reactions typical of abused women such as constant perceived threat, altered identity, stressful managing, engaging in behaviours to ‘keep the peace’ like withholding information to avoid Christian’s anger.
Researchers believed the popular book series had the power to influence attitudes and beliefs surrounding intimate partner violence, arguing “individuals regularly alter their real world beliefs and attitudes in response to fictional communication.”
The impact on Anastasia is consistent with that of other victims of intimate partner violence –constant perceived threat, managing and altering her behaviors to keep peace, lost identity, disempowerment and entrapment.
A 2013 Vic Health survey found a sizeable number of people believe there are circumstances in which violence can be excused.
We don’t need more myths about intimate partner violence being a reflection of true love. The last thing we need is the romanticisation of domestic abuse.
We can’t ignore the implications of depicting a man worthy of criminal charges as hot, sexy and desirable. The packaging of a story about an abusive relationship as ‘Romance’ perpetuates violence against women and undermines efforts to promote equal, respectful relationships.
50 Shades meets Barack Obama
As published on Feminist Current Feb 13, 2015.
Collective Shout responds to common pro-Fifty Shades arguments
Over the last few weeks, the campaign calling on supporters to boycott Fifty Shades of Grey and donate to a domestic violence shelter has escalated – and so too has the backlash from fans of the book series arguing that it was all just a bit of harmless, sexy fun.
We’ve prepared responses to some of the most common arguments we heard in support of the book series and film.
“It’s just fiction!”
Many Fifty Shades fans argue that it is just a book/film, a work of fiction, and as such the eroticized representations of violence against women have no power to influence thinking, attitudes or beliefs.
However, an analysis of the novel found sexual violence and emotional abuse were pervasive and the popular book series had the power to influence attitudes and beliefs surrounding intimate partner violence. The authors argued that “individuals regularly alter their real world beliefs and attitudes in response to fictional communication” and “stories are especially influential when readers become drawn into them and cognitive resources, emotions, and mental imagery faculties are engaged.”
The authors noted in their conclusion “our analysis adds to a growing body of literature noting dangerous violence standards being perpetuated in popular culture.” Read more
“It’s so popular!”
Fifty Shades of Grey is popular in large part because of the misleading way the the trilogy has been promoted. It has been marketed as “romance” and “porn for women” and defended as “playful fantasy encouraging women to become more daring in their sexuality.” If the story was promoted for what it is – a powerful sadistic man grooming a naive young woman for sexual violence and abuse – we doubt it would achieve the same success.
The popularity of Fifty Shades’ means it has even greater potential to perpetuate and reinforce damaging attitudes about abusive relationships.
Throughout history many there are many examples of oppression, violence and injustice that were popular or socially accepted in their time, but are now strongly rejected. Read more
“But he loves her so much!”
To accept this argument would be to believe that stalking, possessiveness, manipulation, jealousy, control and other elements of intimate partner violence are based in love – that abusive men hurt their female partners because they ‘love them so much’.
Perpetrators themselves like to say they acted out of love. This is false. Read more